PARIS, France - It seemed like destiny, but behind all of that there were struggles, years of hard work, years of never knowing if she would get to this stage again - and on Saturday she came full circle. Having already secured No.1 by making the final, Maria Sharapova won her first French Open, becoming the sixth woman in the Open Era to complete the career Grand Slam.
Sharapova came into Roland Garros off the heels of her best clay court season, winning Premier titles at Stuttgart and Rome and compiling an 11-1 record on the surface - the only loss coming to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of Madrid. And when Williams suffered a shock first round exit in Paris, all eyes turned to Sharapova - and she certainly delivered.
Putting her trademark power on display but also showing incredible movement on the clay - a stark contrast to the "cow on ice" she used to describe herself as on the surface in years past - a No.2-seeded Sharapova let one winner past her in the first two rounds and was largely untroubled in six wins en route to the final, losing just one set to Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round.
Having beaten No.4 seed Petra Kvitova in the semifinals to secure the No.1 ranking, Sharapova was on top of her game in the final against surprise finalist Sara Errani - the No.21-seeded Errani only hit 11 unforced errors the entire match, but Sharapova powered through her with 37 winners, making one last huge backhand on her third match point to win, 63 62, and make history.
Sharapova now has the career Grand Slam, having already won Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008. Even sweeter, this was her first Grand Slam title since her nine-month shoulder injury lay-off between August 2008 and May 2009 - in fact, she is the first player ever, male or female, to win a Grand Slam title after undergoing shoulder surgery.
"It's the most incredible feeling. I don't know what to say. I'm so happy. I've worked so hard for this," Sharapova said on the court. "It took a lot to get to this stage and even more to win it. There are so many tough days where you feel like giving up, but you don't. It's been such a journey to get to this stage again."
Both finalists endeared themselves to the crowd during the trophy ceremony - first it was Errani, who, after Sharapova was mistakenly announced as the finalist, raised her arms triumphantly in the air from her chair. Then, it was Sharapova speaking in French and reminding everyone this wasn't just about the career Grand Slam - it was about winning her first French Open title.
"I would like to say thank you for your support - it's a magnificent moment in my career," the Russian told the fans in French, before switching back to English. "I also wanted to say, if this weren't my fourth Grand Slam title, if this were my only one, it would be just as special as it would be to win my fourth."
Sharapova also praised Errani's performance from the last two weeks. "What an amazing tournament. I've watched you play the last two weeks and the way you've performed. And the way you played today was extremely difficult for me. I know it was our first meeting, and I hope we play many more times."
Errani had a breakthrough fortnight - having come in with an 0-28 record against Top 10 players she beat Angelique Kerber and Samantha Stosur back to back to reach her first Grand Slam final, a result that will propel her to No.10 in the world on Monday's rankings - all the way from outside the Top 20.
"I just want to say congratulations to Maria for the tournament and today," Errani said. "I don't feel like Top 10, but I will be Top 10, and it's incredible for me. I really can't believe it. I'm so happy for everything right now."
Sharapova is the sixth woman in the Open Era to complete the career Grand Slam, after Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams. She is also the 10th all-time, with Maureen Connolly, Doris Hart, Shirley Fry and Billie Jean King doing it before the Open Era.